Nadal Praises Tim Smyczek’s Sportsmanship in Close Match

MELBOURNE, Australia — Tim Smyczek, a qualifier from Milwaukee ranked 112th, wielded his racket exceptionally well Wednesday night, striking 64 winners and coming within one game of upsetting third-ranked Rafael Nadal in the second round of the Australian Open.

But what left Nadal most impressed was Smyczek’s sportsmanship.

As Nadal served for the match, ahead by 6-5, 30-0 in the fifth set, a fan hollered during the toss of his first serve, disrupting his motion. The serve sailed long.

As the crowd began to boo, Smyczek caught the attention of the chair umpire and held up two fingers, indicating that Nadal should be able to have both of his serving opportunities. When the umpire announced that it would again be a first serve, Nadal gave Smyczek a thumbs-up sign and a small wave, and several members of Nadal’s team stood to applaud the gesture.

Nadal’s second attempt at a first serve spun into Smyczek’s body, jamming him and forcing him to miss his forehand return, giving Nadal three match points. Smyczek saved all three and took the final game to deuce, but two more winners from Nadal gave him a 6-2, 3-6, 6-7 (2), 6-3, 7-5 victory.

Nadal, who struggled with fatigue, dizziness and nausea for much of the match, celebrated as if he had won one of his 14 Grand Slam titles, falling to his knees and hands and covering his face.

“I want to congratulate Tim — he’s a real gentleman for what he did in that last game,” Nadal said in his on-court interview. “Not a lot of people will do this at 6-5 in the fifth.”

Despite clinging to ideals of gentlemanliness and fair play, tennis has had its low moments in sportsmanship. Justine Henin’s declining to give Serena Williams a second chance at a first serve after holding up her hand midway through Williams’s service motion at a 2003 French Open semifinal illustrates a counterpoint to Smyczek’s gesture. Medical timeouts, bathroom breaks and illegal coaching from the stands are common forms of gamesmanship.

Hours after the match, Nadal and his team were still raving at Smyczek’s fair play.

In the first question of his news conference, he was asked what he had done to prepare to play Smyczek, but Nadal steered his answer to praise Smyczek’s sportsmanship.

“What he did at the end of the fifth is just amazing,” Nadal said, adding, “He’s a great example, what he did today.”

Smyczek said he believed Nadal would have done the same thing if he were in the situation.

“I couldn’t make out what the guy yelled, but it was really loud, and it was right when he was tossing,” Smyczek said. “It was just so blatant. It’s not like he hit an ace on the next ball or anything, but I think he probably would have done the same thing if it was reversed.”

Ben Rothenberg
NY Times
January 21, 2015

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